I used to think that UKIP's rise was straightforwardly disastrous for the Conservatives. I would ponder over the astonishing self-destruct mechanism UKIP represented for Euroscepticism. In my wilder moments I would imagine sinister Eurocrats cackling while they arranged clandestine funding for UKIP, confident over the vote-splitting work it was doing to facilitate a compliant Lab/Lib Dem coalition government in our country after 2015.
The by-election evidence, especially from Eastleigh, has prompted me to revise this. UKIP also takes a lot of votes from Labour and the Lib Dems. But is it still the case that UKIP hits the Conservatives worse than Labour or the Lib Dems? If so does, is it to a marginal or substantial degree?
The council elections this year are hard to predict due to UKIP but once we have the results we will have a much better idea just how much contribution, if any, UKIP can make to getting Ed Miliband into Downing Street.
Looking at the "Statements of Persons Nominated" which have started appearing on council websites, I think it is quite possible that there could be more council candidates this year from UKIP than from the Lib Dems. I suspect it will be a close run thing. If UKIP end up fractionally ahead, I suspect they will trumpet it as a breakthrough and they will be entitled to do so.
Among the county councils, the Lib Dems seem to have more than UKIP in Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Somerset. UKIP seem to have more in Norfolk, Dorset and (astonishingly) Devon.
Among the unitary authorities up for election the Isle of Wight Council has UKIP fielding 29 candidates against just seven for the Lib Dems.
Anglesey has rather more UKIP candidates than Lib Dems. However UKIP are rather feeble about the translation they offer for their name: UKIP Cymru. According to the Vote UK Form the full translation would be:
"Plaid Annibyniaeth y Deyrnas Unedig (PADU)"
Then look at the list in Shropshire. Seven Conservatives are elected unopposed. The Labour Party for all there protestations of being a "one nation" party are only contesting a minority of seats. But the Lib Dems have a few more than UKIP.
In fact UKIP seem to have just as many candidates in traditionally Labour areas as Conservative ones. They are putting up rather more in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (where they already have representation) than in Hampshire or Gloucestershire.
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire ought to be easy Labour gains given the stage we are at in the electoral cycle. Will UKIP's intervention help them on their way? Or could they disrupt it? If UKIP takes seats where will they come from?